The Bee Gees' ethereal harmonies have always hit me in a special place and Robin Gibb's voice in particular is one of my all-time favorites. He was like a gangly human muppet with the voice of an angel and I, for one, can't think of any better combo than that. When I went to see Barry Gibb in concert a few years ago, the joy from watching him perform was tempered by the sadness of his having lost the brothers he'd grown up with and worked alongside his entire life. When he played "I Started A Joke", the technical effects included a hologram of Robin Gibb singing onstage and I wanted to go cry in the parking lot.
As a fan of this magnitude, you can rest assured that I was front & center on my couch to watch the premiere of Frank Marshall's Bee Gees documentary How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? last week.
Fans and newbies alike will be able to enjoy the documentary as an immersion into the music. One of the most interesting moments for me was when House music producer Vince Lawrence identifies the late '70s disco backlash that ultimately sabotaged the Bee Gees career as being rooted in racism and homophobia. This tracks when you consider that disco was created by black and Latino musicians and popularized by mostly gay DJs. Lawrence was working as an usher during the White Sox game at Comiskey Park that turned into the "Disco Demolition" record burning that shut down the game. "It was a racist, homophobic book-burning that the Bee Gees got caught up in because they were a part of the culture that was lifting a lot of other people up."
There are a few other notable tidbits, like how "To Love Somebody" had been originally written for Otis Redding but he passed before he was able to record it (I would kill to hear this). Another memorable moment is when Barry is explaining how the bass line from "Jive Talkin" was originally titled "Drive Talkin" and was inspired by the sound their car made when crossing Interstate 195 each day from Biscayne Bay to Criteria Studios in Miami.
While enjoyable, what the film doesn't give us nearly enough of is vulnerability. It manages to provide us with a chronological outline that just skims the surface. It hardly mentions drugs at all, even though they were a big part of '70s disco culture. It doesn't delve into the particulars behind the lifelong tension between Robin and Barry. And it doesn't address some of the more complex or less savory parts of their history. Like how Robin was a shoplifting pyromaniac as a child (which was partly why the family moved to Australia). Or how the fuzzy flocked texture of their "Odessa" album cover caused allergic reactions among workers at the record plant and had to be repackaged. Or what about the catastrophic Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, featuring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton that cast Aerosmith as the villain and didn't have any dialogue other than narration by George Burns? What about Maurice's paintball obsession or how Robin and his wife escaped the famous Hither Green train wreck in 67 that killed 49 people? I hope we'll one day get a multi-part series that manages to give us the complete warts-and-all story, but until then, this doc is worth a watch.